Over the years, researchers across Texas A&M and The Texas A&M University System have cultivated and fine-tuned countless varieties of grains, fruits, vegetables and meats. By focusing these projects on creating high-quality, efficient, economical and environmentally-sound products, Texas A&M has left its mark across the food industry, on everything from carrots to salsa. While there have been numerous foods created and developed by Aggie researchers, here’s a rundown of five of the tastiest.
It’s one of the newest Aggie-created foods and how sweet it is: for the first time ever this year, staff at Texas A&M’s new Janice and John G. Thomas ’59 Honey Bee Facility have produced the first summer crop of genuine Aggie Honey. The beehives were established in March near the 6,500 square-foot facility on Texas A&M’s Riverside Campus. “We had a good year here in College Station in terms of honey-making bee forage,” says Juliana Rangel, Texas A&M AgriLife Research assistant professor of apiculture at the facility. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of beekeepers close to our apiary, so our bees were able to tap into all the local forage in the nearby land which is largely owned by A&M, so this honey is truly Aggie Honey, made by Aggie bees, foraging on Aggieland.”
Producing and selling Aggie Honey has been done in fun, says Rangel, but it has a far more important purpose: raising awareness of honey bees and the university’s honey bee research. “We want to make people across the state aware that we have a research facility that is working on honey bee health issues,” she adds. “We hope our Aggie Honey project will be a way the public can buy an excellent all-natural product while helping to support our research.”
Aggie Honey is being sold in the main office of the Department of Entomology (Heep Bldg. Room 412, 979-845-2516) and at the Rosenthal Meat Center on campus, with all proceeds going to directly help fund the honey bee research program. Learn more about the honey bee lab.
Texas Aggie Brand Beef Jerky
Since the 1980s, Texas A&M’s Rosenthal Meat Science & Technology Center in the Department of Animal Science has proudly produced Texas Aggie Brand Beef Jerky. First developed in Animal Science 307 labs, the jerky was a longtime favorite of Aggies for years. However, a visit from The New York Times changed that in 2007. After the paper named the beef jerky as its favorite in a double-blind taste test, the jerky suddenly had a national following.
What makes the beef jerky so special is that it’s still made the “old school” way, says Ray Riley, manager of the Rosenthal Center. “We do not accelerate any of our processing steps,” Riley explains. “Lean slices of beef round are cured for 7-10 days, sprinkled with tasty black pepper and hickory-smoked for 12-15 hours.”
Even though it has been several years since the jerky was featured in The New York Times, Riley says it’s still very popular — the Rosenthal Center receives orders and ships the jerky, which is sold by the half pound, across the United States. The jerky may be the most well-known product of the Rosenthal Meat Center, but it most certainly isn’t the only meat cured and smoked by Aggies. All types of beef, lamb, and pork cuts, a variety of sausages, snack sticks, sausage wraps, hams, and pre-cooked prime rib roasts are also available at Rosenthal.
The TAM Jalapeño
Creating a mild jalapeño pepper was written off as a crazy idea when it was first proposed in the late 1970s — but the appeal of such a pepper to food industry leaders was huge, as it could help expand the customer base for both growers and producers of Mexican and Cajun foods. Benigno “Ben” Villalon, with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, soon produced that pepper in 1981: the TAM Mild Jalapeño-1 went on revolutionize the salsa industry. The mild pepper not only helped salsa producers create milder salsas with broader appeal, but it was also good for stuffing and slicing for nachos and pizza topping.
Villalon, also known as “Dr. Pepper,” continued his work as a pepper breeder and plant pathology professor until his retirement in 1996. Now professor emeritus, Villalon and Kevin Crosby, now an associate professor of horticultural sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who was the head of the pepper-breeding program at the Texas Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Weslaco, developed the TAM Mild Jalapeño II in 2002. This pepper matures almost a week earlier than its predecessor and is also resistant to four common pepper viruses.
Other pepper varieties created by Villalon and Crosby (some which also bear a Texas A&M connection in their names) include the Tambel-2, Hidalgo Serrano, TAM Mild Chile-2, Rio Grande Gold, TAM Veracruz, TAM Mild Habanero, TAM Dulcito Sweet Jalapeño, TAM Tropic Bell, and TAM Valley Hot Cayenne, and TAM Ben Villalon Chile, products that emphasize disease resistance, stress tolerance, earliness and longer shelf life.
The Texas 1015 Onion
It took 10 years of extensive research and testing, but the resulting “Million Dollar Baby” lived up to its name in more ways than one. Nicknamed for the amount of money it cost to develop, the Texas 1015 onion is a mild, exceptionally sweet onion.
Named for its optimal planting date of Oct. 15, the onion was developed by Leonard Pike, endowed professor emeritus and former horticulture professor at Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The 1015 onion stems from the Texas Grano 502, an onion variety that can trace its roots back to Spain. Pike’s work focused on crossing onion varieties to increase the storage ability and create an onion more resistant to pink root disease. He was able to isolate a chemical called pyruvate that can cause tears in onions and minimize its presence in the 1015 onion.
Released in 1983, the 1015 onion is now grown throughout the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas; onions are the leading vegetable crop produced in Texas, and the state adopted the sweet onion as its official state vegetable in 1997.
The project started out just for fun: Leonard Pike, endowed professor emeritus and former horticulture professor at Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, set out to create a carrot that bucked its usual orange color for a hue far more pleasing to an Aggie — maroon. The result, however, wasn’t only Aggie-friendly, but it also was a better-tasting, healthier carrot.
The maroon carrot, which Pike dubbed the BetaSweet, contains nearly 40 percent more beta-carotene than a traditional carrot, which contributes to healthy hair, eyes and smooth skin. The maroon color of the carrot plays an important role, too. The color comes from anthocyan, an antioxidant found in eggplants, currants, and black grapes that reduces blood pressure and helps in the prevention of cancer and heart attacks. And of course, the BetaSweet tastes good, too — it is sweeter and juicer than a conventional carrot, as well as being easier to chew. Learn more about maroon BetaSweet carrots.